View profile

Your Saturday history briefing

Chicago Sun-Times Afternoon Edition
Welcome to the “This week in history” newsletter, part of Afternoon Edition! Every Saturday we take a break from recapping the day’s news to bring you a deep dive into Chicago’s religious, murderous and sometimes thought-provoking history. For more historic photos, follow us at @CSTphotovault on Facebook and Instagram.
— Alison Martin (@miss_alison_m, follow for extra history plus rants and dogs throughout the week)

This week in history: Our Lady of Guadalupe Church established
Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, 3200 E. 91st St., was the first Mexican American parish in Chicago. From the Sun-Times archives.
Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, 3200 E. 91st St., was the first Mexican American parish in Chicago. From the Sun-Times archives.
When the first wave of Mexican Americans arrived in Chicago to stay during World War I, they settled in neighborhoods looking to hire workers to replace those who’d gone off to fight. Many headed for Back of the Yards, near the meatpacking industry, while others found work in the steel mills and settled in South Chicago.
In 1923, Fr. William Kane, S.J., began ministering to the predominately Catholic immigrants, according to a Facebook page managed by the church. The following year, a small church was built at 9024 S. Mackinaw Ave., and Claretian priest Fr. John Maiztegui was named pastor, followed by Fr. James Tort, C.M.F., a year later. In 1926, the parish purchased land at 91st and Brandon where a new church would be constructed.
The Chicago Daily News devoted little coverage to the church’s construction, but a photographer did attend the cornerstone laying. The photo below ran on April 14, 1928.
Rt.-Rev. Pascual Diaz presides over the laying of the cornerstone at Our Lady of Guadalupe in South Chicago on April 14, 1928. This photo appeared in the day’s edition of the Chicago Daily News. From the Sun-Times archives.
Rt.-Rev. Pascual Diaz presides over the laying of the cornerstone at Our Lady of Guadalupe in South Chicago on April 14, 1928. This photo appeared in the day’s edition of the Chicago Daily News. From the Sun-Times archives.
The caption read: “South Chicago church and Mexican center dedicated by bishop of Tabasco. Scene at the laying of the cornerstone of the new edifice erected at E. 91st street and Burley avenue by the parish of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The Rt.-Rev. Pascual Diaz, who was in charge, has resided in New York since the exodus of Catholic clergymen from Mexico.”
Chicago's most wanted
Lieutenant Carl W. Wanderer sitting in a chair in a room in Chicago in 1920. Wanderer was convicted and hanged for killing his wife, Ruth, and a man Wanderer hired to make Ruth's death look like a robbery gone wrong. The lieutenant was executed on Sept. 30, 1921.
Lieutenant Carl W. Wanderer sitting in a chair in a room in Chicago in 1920. Wanderer was convicted and hanged for killing his wife, Ruth, and a man Wanderer hired to make Ruth's death look like a robbery gone wrong. The lieutenant was executed on Sept. 30, 1921.
Just after 7 a.m. on Sept. 30, 1921, Carl Wanderer prayed “fervently” as he walked to the gallows. A Cook County jury convicted him of the murder of his wife, Ruth, and a “ragged” stranger. At the time, Ruth was pregnant.
“On the scaffold, as they were adjusting this white robe and the noose, [Wanderer] began to sing,” a Chicago Daily News reporter recorded on that day. “It was evident he sang to his wife. The words and tune came slowly from his lips and the people in the darkened room listened appalled to the gruesome concert.”
According to the lyrics provided by the reporter, Wanderer sang, “Old Pal, Why Don’t You Answer Me?
The convicted man continued singing until a deputy slipped a white hood over his head. “Just before the trap was sprung, a guard standing on the scaffold heard Wanderer murmur, ‘God have mercy on my soul, God have mercy on my soul.’”
Wanderer’s long walk to the gallows began over a year earlier on June 21, 1920. According to a Daily News report published the following day, Wanderer and his wife had returned home to 4732 N. Campbell Avenue after attending a picture show. There in the vestibule of their home, an unknown man attempted to rob the pair. He never asked them to show their hands, Wanderer recounted, because he got “cold feet” and started shooting. Wanderer had been carrying a gun of his own and returned fire, striking the would-be robber, whose own bullet allegedly hit Mrs. Wanderer and killed her.
“The first shot blew him across the hallway,” Wanderer, who claimed he had been discharged the previous year and earned a Croix de Guerre from France in World War I, said. “Then I couldn’t see him. But I knew where he’d landed and I let him have three more. I got him, but if I’d only got him sooner. Just a nickel’s worth sooner.”
The story seemed fishy to Chicago police. On July 7, Wanderer admitted he owned both guns — the one that killed his wife and another which killed the unidentified man, the Daily News found. His cousin told police he’d loaned the gun to Wanderer “some time ago as protection, as the latter had been held up recently.” Detectives also suspected that the unknown man knew Wanderer from the war and held a grudge against him.
The investigation continued. Two days later, Wanderer — this time re-enacting in front of police and the secretary to the state’s attorney — told detectives he’d shot both people. He said that he’d taken both of his guns out when the unknown man approached the two coming home from the movie and accidentally shot his wife.
A day later, a coroner’s jury recommended a grand jury indict Wanderer on two counts of murder. Wanderer, who “appeared cool as if he were a spectator of the proceedings,” told a Daily News reporter, “The thought of killing anybody probably doesn’t bother me as much as it would the average person. You see, I’ve put in a lot of time in my father’s butcher shop and the idea of shedding blood doesn’t offend me much. Besides that, there’s my army experience. That taught me not to mind killing.”
On July 12, police identified a possible motive: another woman. Wanderer had apparently sent love letters to 16-year-old Julia Schmidt. Detectives now believed Wanderer simply killed his wife to be rid of her, and the grand jury agreed. He was indicted that day. Several days later Wanderer’s former army commander disregarded his alleged heroics during the war. “He has never received any decoration of any kind,” the lieutenant said.
Wanderer’s trial for his wife’s murder began Oct. 1. It’s unclear why both indictments were tried together. On the first day of jury selection, the assistant state’s attorney – “who has more hanging verdicts to his credit than any other prosecutor,” the Daily News said – announced he would ask for the death penalty. As he listened in a “brown striped suit, a striped silk shirt with a soft collar and black tie,” Wanderer show no emotion.
The selection process ran unusually long. Too many potential jurors told the court they’d already formed an opinion about Wanderer. On Oct. 11, the mother of Wanderer’s wife came into the courtroom to express her distress at the slow pace of the trial thus far, the Daily News reported. Opening statements began two days later.
On Oct. 15, Schmidt told the jury “how Carl made love to her immediately before he killed his wife and immediately after her death,” the Daily News said.
The next week on Oct. 20, Wanderer took the stand himself. He “repudiated the confession he made to the police ‘that he had killed his wife and the unidentified stranger.’ While Wanderer did not deny he had signed the confession attributed to him, he declared it was not true, and had been made under police compulsion.”
His testimony did little to convince the jury. They found Wanderer guilty of murdering his wife, and a judge later sentenced him to 25 years on Nov. 2 — but not death. When he faced yet another jury for the murder of the “ragged stranger,” his luck ran out. It took the jury just 12 minutes to convict him on April 16, 1921. A judge then delivered a death sentence.
In the end, Wanderer confessed to the murder the night before his execution. He told a Daily News reporter as he played cards, sang and burst into fits of laughter and profanity:
“Well, I killed Ruth and the stranger fella. And I’ll tell you why,” but he asked that the confession not be printed until after his hanging to spare his “pa and sisters,” who believed him innocent. Wanderer had been telling them the papers had lied about his case, so they never believed what they read about him — and they probably wouldn’t believe the confession either.
The reporter then asked for the motive.
“Well, it was this way,” he said. “I killed Ruth first. I didn’t want her to see me kill the other. I know that it was a dirty rotten trick, but I don’t know why the hell I did it.”
He continued: “It’s a funny thing about me, you know. I never went with any girl in my life before Ruth. I hated girls. You can believe it or not but I was straight, perfectly straight, when I got married. And I couldn’t even stand Ruth. I couldn’t stand even being alone with her or having to touch her. See? That’s how straight I was.”
Wanderer trailed off for a bit, but the reporter brought him back.
“It went on that way for some time. And then when I realized she was going to be a mother, I felt terrible. You can’t imagine how I felt. I couldn’t stand it to figure out I was going to be a father. It seemed awful. And I couldn’t stand it to figure she was going to be the mother of my child. The whole idea was repugnant to me.”
He finally finished: “I didn’t want to leave her. She would suffer too much. I couldn’t stand it if she suffered. So I figured out the only way to kill her. And I got this poor boob to frame a holdup. And I killed them both.”
The story of Carl and Ruth Wanderer could have come straight from a murder ballad, such as “Knoxville Girl” or “Tom Dooley.” For more on murder ballads, check out “Unprepared to Die” by Paul Slade.
Talk of the town
Mahatma Gandhi almost never, if ever, strayed from the practices he preached. Whether in India, South Africa or the U.K., he maintained his belief in nonviolence, using civil disobedience to rally support for the rights of Indians throughout the British colonies and Indian independence. He believed in the self-purification of fasting and vegetarianism, and he sought happiness not from material pleasures but from within.
On the week of the great leader’s birthday in 1961, Chicago Sun-Times columnist Sydney J. Harris rhapsodized on Gandhi’s recipe for happiness.
“Have no possessions and want none. No ambitions to win admiration, wealth or power. Do what you do because you think it right, seeking nothing, not even the personal gratification of the achievement of your purpose. In simplicity, directness and strength, such a man could never be defeated.”
“In our most personal, intimate and honest moments, most of us would admit to ourselves that Gandhi possessed at least a large share of the secret of happiness,” Harris admitted, but people more honestly subscribed to the philosophy that “enough is necessary.”
To this, the columnist asked: What is this “enough” that we first have to get?
“I suggest it is always ‘more,’” he wrote. “More wealth, more power, more security, more love, more fame, more pleasure, more of whatever we deem essential to our existence. ‘When I have enough of this,’ we say to ourselves, ‘I will stop.’”
Gandhi’s life serves as a masterclass in living without possessions and seeking no fame or glory. His longest and final fast lasted 21 days, during which he prayed for an end to communal violence between Hindus and Muslims in India and Pakistan, according to Ramachandra Guha, author of “Gandhi: The Years That Changed The World 1914-1948.” Perhaps fasting may seem like a misguided ploy to attain fame, but the spiritual leader was 79 at the time. In his book, Guha quoted a letter an American writer penned to his wife while he visited Gandhi during his fast and saw the toll it took:
Gandhi was “was asleep, lying on his side in an embryo position. He was completely covered in a khaddar cloth, including his head, and framing his face. … An old man’s face and not attractive. In his sleep, he seemed to have lost control and it showed what he perhaps was feeling — suffering, intense suffering… . Somehow we never think of a Gandhi fast as a terrible physical experience. We think of it as a political maneuver, a strike, a gesture. But here it was in human terms, a process. Here was a 79-year-old man deliberately killing himself in the most difficult and excruciating way.”
Too many, Harris surmised, couldn’t realize when enough was truly enough. “There is no security in the world, nothing guarantees our possessions, and the very condition of life itself in the future is being jeopardized by our frantic efforts to get enough — enough bombs, enough bases, enough delivery vehicles.”
And when no one can determine when enough is, he added, “our hunger for acquisition, and our fear of loss, together drive us toward accumulating more than we need or can handle.” Gandhi was “the nearest thing to a saint our century has seen,” and no “ordinary mortal” should be expected to be perfect. “But history may be working in his direction and not in ours; and ordinary mortals may have to learn how to be extraordinary to cope with the unprecedented world of tomorrow.”
Mahatma Gandhi may be best known for fighting (peacefully) for India’s freedom from British colonization, but before that, he fought for the rights of Indians in British-controlled South Africa. For more on his fascinating life, check out “The Good Boatman” by (grandson) Rajmohan Gandhi, “Gandhi: The Years That Changed The World 1914-1948” and “Gandhi before India,” both by Ramachandra Guha.
Thanks for reading! Want to share your thoughts? Your favorite moment in Chicago history? Your complaints? Send them to amartin@suntimes.com.
Did you enjoy this issue?
Chicago Sun-Times Afternoon Edition

Chicago's most important news of the day, delivered every weekday afternoon. Plus, a bonus issue on Saturdays that dives into the city's storied history.

In order to unsubscribe, click here.
If you were forwarded this newsletter and you like it, you can subscribe here.
Manage all your newsletter subscriptions here.
Powered by Revue
30 N Racine Ave. Suite 300, Chicago, IL 60607